Guardians of Shi’ism


Guardians of Shi’ism


Sacred Authority and Transnational Family Networks

Author: Elvire Corboz

Publisher: Edinburgh University Press (January 2015)

A study of Shi’i Islam explaining the transnational constitution of clerical authority

For centuries, the Shi‘i religious establishment has come to represent the most quintessential type of a transnational actor. How is clerical authority established and maintained across borders? This book explores the potential of transnational linkages in shaping leadership patterns in contemporary Shi‘ism. Through the lens of two families of religious scholars, it compares the multifaceted roles played by clerics with narratives about the traditional system of religious authority, political organizations and international charities. The book maps clerical networks and their encounters with communities and states across the Middle East, the Indian sub-continent, South-East Asia and the West. This multi-sited approach aims to clarify the local and transnational dynamics that underpin clerical authority.

Key Features

  • Enhances our understanding of Muslim authority through a sociological analysis of the networking, philanthropic and political practices of Shi‘i clerical actors across borders
  • Includes case studies of two prominent families of religious scholars (al-Hakim and al-Khu’i) to show the continued relevance of Shi‘i clerics to Muslim politics and society
  • Deconstructs homogenizing views of transnational Shi‘ism by comprehending and localizing cross-border religious networks in and beyond the Middle East


  • Part I: Family, Students, and Friends: From Dyadic to Transnational Networks

1. An Iraqi Family of Religious Scholars: Local and Transnational Networking Strategies

2. An Iranian Marja’in Najaf and a Foundation in London: Reproducing Interpersonal Ties across Place and Over Time

  • Part II: Charitable Politics: Benevolent Patrons, Beneficiaries, and the State

3. Leadership in Patronage: The Benefits of Serving and Educating

4. The Priority of Charity: A Global Brand of Philanthropy in Its Local Making

  • Part III: The Affairs of the State: Clerical Participation in Politics

5. From Najaf to Najaf: A Family at the Forefront of Iraqi Politics

6. Quietist Activism: Calculated Responses to Political Turmoil

About the Author

Elvire Corboz earned a D.Phil from Wadham College, University of Oxford and has held positions at Princeton University and Rutgers University. She is Assistant Professor of Arab and Islamic Studies in the Department of the Study of Religion, Aarhus University.


“Using extensive resources, meticulous research and a sophisticated conceptual framework, Elvire Corboz has given us an innovative study of transnational Shi‘ism. She offers a fascinating portrait of the ways in which the Shi‘i clergy uses institutional and philanthropic networks to construct and maintains its authority across national borders. The rich, nuanced and ecumenical portrait of the Shi‘i marja‘iyya in Guardians of Shi‘ism provides an important palliative to the sectarian lens that is all too often used to interpret Shi‘ism in a narrow political and stereotypical manner.” (Eric Davis, Department of Political Science, Rutgers University)

Source: Edinburgh University Press

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